Berlin's beloved Tempelhof Airport closes after 85 years

31st October 2008, Comments 0 comments

Many gathered to bid their farewell to Tempelhof Airport.

Berlin -- With its last scheduled flight taking to the skies, Berlin's fabled Tempelhof Airport ceased 85 years of operations on Thursday.

The airport, which is surrounded by multi-storey apartment blocks, was once the entry point for 2.3 million tons of airborne relief during 1948 and 1949 Berlin Airlift. Future use of the historic site has not been decided.

The airport opened in 1923; became an icon of 20th century design; secured West Berlin's post war survival; and eked out its last years catering to business flights, claiming the title of world's oldest airport.

Tempelhof's finest hour was during the airlift, when Soviet authorities blocked road, rail and canal transport links into West Berlin. The Allies flew coal and food to Berlin's 2.2 million people for 320 tense days.

Many Berliners were sad that the airport, which had runways too short to accommodate big modern jets, had to close. Just after 10 pm, the last aircraft, a propeller plane operated by Cirrus Airlines, lifted off for the German city of Mannheim.

Some guests at the closing ceremony jeered Mayor Klaus Wowereit as he said Berlin needed the land. "We have to look forward," he said.

Outside, 100 conservationists opposed to the closure by blowing whistles and waving banners in a last protest at dusk.

Two antique planes: a US-made Douglas DC-3, as used in the airlift, and a German Ju-52, a type that carried passengers from 1932 onward for Lufthansa, were set to lumber into the air at midnight in an act to recall Tempelhof's glory.

Georg Kohne, 51, a Lufthansa pilot assigned to the Ju-52, said, "It's the saddest day of my career."

Three more vintage planes, which required ideal weather to lift off, were held on ground because of cold and rain. Airport spokesman Ralf Kunkel said that the planes would have to be trucked out if they did not take off by the deadline.

A big new airport in Berlin's green belt is to take over the functions of both Tempelhof and another city airport at Tegel.

Tempelhof is just four kilometres from the city centre. Tourists still come to look at its vast buildings with Nazi features, including the 1,200 metre long curved terminal, which was built in 1934 and now regarded by many as a classic expression of 1930s architecture.

Wowereit insisted that Tempelhof and Tegel must close, so that all airlines land outside the city at Schoenefeld Airport, which is being rebuilt and renamed Berlin Brandenburg International (BBI) by 2011.


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